A far north Queensland community advocate is asking the public and media not to mistake a call from authorities to demolish a house in Cairns as a practice within Torres Strait Islander culture.
Malarndirri McCarthy, Andrea Booth

24 Dec 2014 - 11:00 AM  UPDATED 24 Jun 2015 - 5:34 PM

A far north Queensland community advocate is asking that the public and media not mistake a call from authorities to demolish a house in Cairns as a practice of Torres Strait Islander culture.

Yodie Batzke was speaking to NITV News to clarify Torres Strait cultural practices after confusion in media reports and online.

Eight Torres Strait Islander children aged between two and 14 were killed last Friday at a house in Manoora, a suburb of the Cairns City in far north Queensland. A 37-year-old mother was charged with eight counts of murder on Sunday and the house, located on Murray Street, remains a crime scene.

Ms Batzke says, "The decision [to destroy the house] was made by a government agency and by the local member of Cairns. It was in no way at all a decision made by the family and it is in no way a cultural practice within the Torres Strait Islander culture for a home to be demolished.

But she added that, “The community recognises that because this is such a tragic event, no one – whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous – would want to live in this home.”

She advised that the Cairns house should not be razed until the victims were laid to rest.

Ms Batzke told NITV News that the Local Member of Parliament for Cairns, Gavin King, spoke to her on the day after the murders about plans to demolish the house.

Gavin King told media on Sunday, "It's the right thing to do going forward to help with the grieving process".

Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Paul Taylor also expressed his intentions to destroy the house. "We're unable to set a timeframe - we'll finish with the house when we finish with it," he said.

Yodie Batzke explained the cultural practice relating to deaths in Torres Strait Islander communities: "If the children had passed away because of illness or other unforseen circumstances, the home would be the place for family to come and grieve," she said.

"But given the nature of how they passed away, the house is not open for that at all and it's still under police investigation anyway.

"As far as the family coming together to grieve, they're grieving in their own way in family homes, I do know that. They're looking at coming together as a united family, because we're talking about not one, not two, but three or four families grieving together in Cairns."

Torres Strait Islander families are being mindful of the Traditional Owners of the area in which the Manoora house stands and respect their involvement in cultural practices such as smoking ceremonies.

“If you're wanting to know more about what the Singleton and Fourmile families – who identify with that area – need to do, that would have to be an interview with them and not myself," Ms Batzke said.

She added she was unable to provide information about the children's funerals. "It is still too soon and although I'm advocating some of the issues, it's not my place to speak about the funeral. They have their own spokesperson for that. You will know when the children are laid to rest when it's made public in the papers."

One member of the grieving families came forward to speak to the media about funerals for the children on Wednesday.

Rod Willie says that all who have been affected are working carefully and respectfully – as immediate families, extended families and as a community – through a sensitive and cultural process to ensure loved ones are respectfully put to rest.

Mr Willie did not specify a date that the victims would be laid to rest, however he said that would be done in Cairns early in the New Year.

When Yodie Batzke was asked what message she would like to provide to state and federal government, and media concerning cultural protocols, she said: "For the media once again to reiterate the cultural sensitivity around not mentioning names or placing images of the children that have passed on in the papers. 

"It is enough now that other media outlets internationally are not respecting those wishes, but we'd like the Australian media to just be mindful, just to pay common courtesy and respect for that."

Story by NITV News Executive Producer Malarndirri McCarthy and Reporter Andrea Booth